Selecting the music for a ViniChoral performance is not a trivial task, but whom better to ask than our singers? Earlier this winter, we spent a happy afternoon at Groot Constantia tasting the wines on offer at ViniChoral III. With pen in one hand and wine glass in the other, we mulled over mouthfeels, adjectives, varietals and styles to pin down the music that you heard on 23 August!

In August 2019, VOX Cape Town presented its third exclusive pairing of wine and choral song at Groot Constantia, the oldest wine-producing estate in South Africa. Guests experienced an exceptional mingling of the senses as a new selection of the estate’s renowned wines was paired with a miscellany of choral masterpieces from across the centuries.

Guests were greeted by the refined sounds of a grand piano (generously sponsored by Ian Burgess-Simpson Pianos and played by Clinton Claasen) that added a further element of sophistication to the evening. To complement the MCC Brut Rosé, the first choral item was In Vino Veritas – a light and jazzy ditty reminding one that “in (too much) wine, lies the truth”.

As has become tradition, the pairing was led by Rodney Trudgeon in conversation with Karen Woodcock, one of the estate’s managers. To accompany the Rosé 2018, VOX presented a duo of wistful ballads that had been especially adapted for their recent recitals at the Irma Stern Museum. The pastoral nature of these pieces was a fitting match for a wine that would suit a summer’s picnic (although the words provided an occasional menacing undertone; for the complete texts of the choral items, guests were directed to a special webpage).

In contrast, the delicately-sour Sauvignon Blanc 2018 was paired with music inspired by the crisp Norwegian landscape. The Gregorian-inspired chant of Ubi caritas by Ola Gjeilo evoked the sensation of soft sunshine glittering off the icicle-like piano notes.

The first red wine of the evening was a new Cape blend, released earlier this year, called Lady of Abundance. Inspired by the statue that stands on the gable of the Manor House, this wine pays homage to the abundance of the estate’s diverse terroir. An obvious musical match for this wine was a movement from the Stabat Mater (“Standing Mother”) by Karl Jenkins, notably in the way in which all the individual elements – voices, piano and percussion – come together to produce a palatable blend.

After returning briefly to England for the Shiraz (three movements from the Flower Songs by Benjamin Britten), the estate’s flagship Gouverneurs Reserve was poured. This wine, which has been featured at every ViniChoral event, was matched with music from the 15th and 16th centuries. From the fauxbourdon of Dufay’s Ave Maris Stella to the luminosity of O Nata Lux by Thomas Tallis, one could not help wondering whether the composers themselves might have savoured the mouthfeel of a Bordeaux blend.

Finally, Groot Constantia’s famous Grand Constance was paired with the “sweet” (albeit sobering) sounds of Nicky Schrire’s Caged Bird. For a piece inspired by melodic simplicity, there was an ambiguity in this juxtaposition of wine, music and meaning. In her poem, Maya Angelou contrasts the struggles of a bird attempting to rise above the limitations of adverse surroundings with the flight of a bird that is free; despite being exiled on the island of St Helena, Napoleon was still “free” to enjoy Groot Constantia’s wines – a privilege that few of our countrymen enjoy today. While there is much to celebrate about post-apartheid South Africa, we still have far to go.

To end on a lighter note, the singers concluded with the hilarious Ballad of Green Broom by Benjamin Britten, wrapping up VOX Cape Town’s third evening of sophistication and synaesthesia.

Read more about the previous events in this series: ViniChoral (2017) and ViniChoral II (2018).